So Guilt Serves You Not Imprisons You
Guilt. We all feel it, but caregiver guilt is inevitable and must be managed. Guilt can be helpful, it can push you to be the best you can be…or it can paralyze you.
For caregivers, painful feelings — such as guilt, sadness, and anger — need to be recognized like any other pain. It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘Stop! Pay attention.’ The pain of a burned finger makes you pull your hand from the stove, so, too, guilt guides your actions.
Why do we feel caregiver guilt?
Your “Best Self”
We each have a picture of our “Best Self”; the one that exemplifies your values and how you relate to yourself and others. Guilt arises when there’s a mismatch between the choices you make in your daily life and the choices you feel your “Best Self” would have made.
Maybe to you, your “Best Self” is a parent who attends all of their kids’ soccer games. Miss a game to take your dad to the doctor, and all of a sudden you think you’re falling short.
You may have needs that don’t line up with this “Best Self.” You may believe that your own needs don’t matter in comparison to the needs of your loved one.
You may feel caregiver guilt when you even recognize your needs, much less act upon them. A mother may ask herself, “Why should I be able to go out for a walk with my kids when my mother is at home in pain?” (A hint for this mother: when she takes good care of herself she can give more to her mother with an open heart .)
Feeling angry about the injustice of your loved one’s illness? You might even feel angry at your loved one for getting sick! Admitting those feelings can produce caregiver guilt. Yes, you may even feel guilty about feeling guilty.
[ctt template=”1″ link=”bcX0v” via=”yes” ]Feeling angry about loved one’s illness? You might even feel angry at your loved one for getting sick![/ctt]
Did I do something wrong?
“Why did my loved one get sick?” you may wonder. Perhaps, if the “Best Self” acted more often, your loved one would be healthy. What if you’d served more healthful meals? What if you called 911, instead of believing your husband when he said his chest pain was just “a little heartburn”?
Managing caregiver guilt
When you have feelings of guilt, it’s important to learn to manage guilt so that it serves you rather than imprisons you.
Recognize guilt: Unrecognized guilt eats at your soul.
Name it; look at the monster under the bed, identify any other feelings: Often, there are feelings under the feeling of guilt. Name those, too.
For example, say to yourself: “As much as I hate to admit this, I’m resentful that dad’s illness changed our lives.” Once put into words, your perspective of the situation changes.
You’ll realize that these feelings are normal and okay. Hopefully, these feelings will also remind you of how fortunate you are to have what it takes to take care of a loved one.
Be as compassionate with yourself as you are your loved one.
Cloudy moods, like cloudy days, come and go. There’s no one way a caregiver should feel.
When you give yourself permission to feel and don’t let your feelings control your actions, your guilt will subside.
Look for the cause of the guilt.
What is the mismatch between this “Best Self” and the real you? Which of your need is going unmet? Do your actions need to change to align with your values?
Meet your needs. Needs are not bad or good; they just are. If you need some time alone, find someone to stay with your loved one.
What changes can you make so your behavior fits your values: For example, maybe you feel guilty because your friend was in the hospital and you weren’t able to send a card. A possible solution would be to buy some beautiful blank cards so it would be easier for you to drop a note the next time.
Ask for help.
Call a friend and let them know you’re having a rough time. See if they have a minute for you to vent. This will allow you to express your feelings without possibly hurting your loved one.
Have a family meeting and say, “There’s been a lot of changes around here since Grandma got sick. I know I’m spending more time with her. Let’s figure out together what we each need to do to get everything done.”
Revisit and reinvent your “Best Self”.
These values and choices were based on your resources and knowledge at the time. As you look to the future, you can create a refined vision of your “Best Self” that better reflects your current situation.
When you wake up in the morning and put on your clothes, imagine dressing your new “Best Self.” Let this reinvented “Best Self” make those moment-to-moment choices that create your legacy.
Be your “Best Self”
Being a caregiver is hard, don’t make it harder than it has to be. Remember that you need to take care of yourself first. You will be a more effective caregiver when you care for the caregiver first (see this article). Your loved one doesn’t want or expect a selfless servant. As a caregiver, when you care for yourself, you increase and improve your own ability to care. Yes, caregiver guilt is part of caregiving, but guilt can also help you become the caregiver you and your loved one deserve.
[ctt template=”1″ link=”rUfgd” via=”yes” ]Being a caregiver is hard, don’t make it harder than it has to be. [/ctt]